LOLA alumna, Kelly Hawke, was recently on the LOLA West Coast Trail expedition with her two sons; Geoffrey, who turned 16 on the trip, and Stephen, who is 21. Stephen wrote this beautiful little essay about his LOLA experience and what his LOLA buff now means to him: 

“As I write this post, I’m sitting in the base camp of La Verendrye park in Quebec, eating some roast chicken before embarking on a canoe trip with my father for several days. This will be my second 70km+ survival adventure of the summer, my city-bound friends are quick to remind me.

I realize that I’m carrying with me a symbol from my last adventure – not something abstract or intangible, like experience or skill, although I’m sure I’ll have that in spades. No, what links these two adventures is what I’m wearing on my head – my Live Out Loud buff.

To understand the significance of this otherwise fairly normal piece of attire, one has to understand the nature of the West Coast Trail –  the epic Canadian seaside trail we hiked less than two months ago. I would be lying if I said my initial reaction when my mother told me about the trip wasn’t one of skepticism. Seven days of walking? Yeah, thanks. But as I would soon discover, spending seven days with a fifty pound knapsack, hiking over mountains and along cliffs, crossing rivers and surviving the harsh elements, is no small task. It was a terrific experience, but it was by no
means an easy one. During those seven days, we left everything behind – essentially, we were different people, different versions of ourselves. We all developed habits, styles, skills, nicknames and identities totally unique to ourselves, but all connected to the trail.

 It just so happened that my “style” involved this curious bandana-like buff. Combined with my long hair, it donned me a sort of “Pirates of the Carribean” aesthetic, and the affectionate nickname “Johnny Depp” by my hiking troupe. For a week I wore this curious piece of headgear putting it, and me, through enough rain and mud to sink an entire city.

The buff is pretty beaten up now – it’s muddy, it’s slightly torn, and… it smells. In short, it’s quite ugly and gross.  I would never wear it in the city, but now, as I head off on another adventure and leave everything behind, it’s back on my head. It feels right. This weird, muddy, smoky piece of headgear has become symbolic with the greatest single adventure of my young life.

Here’s hoping it survives the next few.”